I’ll start by saying this- there are no winners in the recent developments between the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles. This is an extremely nuanced topic that forces us to ask questions about where we draw the line between progressive baseball thinking and old school tactics, all while the entire sport points fingers at who to blame. Do we fault Manny Machado for what seems like deliberate intent to injure an opposing player? Or do we fault the Red Sox for head hunting on Dustin Pedroia’s behalf?
Let’s Start With the Facts
On a play in which second baseman Dustin Pedroia was receiving the ball, Manny Machado slid, albeit a little late, into Pedroia’s leg. The intent was clear: to breakup the potential double play.
It is a hard nosed baseball play that players are taught to make from a young age. Undoubtedly, it is the proper play to make. Even though there are current rules in place to restrict runners from breaking up double plays, they are loosely enforced, meaning that Machado was not wrong to attempt the break-up slide.
Until he put his right leg in the air.
Shortly after reaching second base, Machado continued his motion, lifted his right leg into the air, and drove it into Pedroia’s leg. As of Wednesday night, Pedroia has still not returned from the knee and ankle injuries he sustained on the play.
Pedroia, as the de facto veteran leader of the Red Sox following the retirement of David Ortiz, had little to say about the slide other than the fact that he does not care about Major League Baseball’s precautionary sliding rules.
“I don’t even know what the rule is,” Pedroia told a reporter after the game. “I’ve turned the best double play in the major leagues for 11 years. I don’t need the f— rule, let’s be honest. The rule is irrelevant. The rule is for people with bad footwork, and that’s it.”
This was a gritty response from Pedroia. He could have easily taken this opportunity to rip into Machado, especially given the fact that he would go on to miss game time because of the slide. The Orioles and Red Sox are set to compete all summer for the AL East crown, providing some added tension between the two clubs. But Pedroia opted to take the high road rather than admonishing Machado for a borderline dirty slide.
The Red Sox Retaliate
His teammate, relief pitcher Matt Barnes, did not follow suit. Instead, Barnes opted to throw a fastball just behind Machao’s head in his sixth at bat following the injury to Pedroia. Unlike Machado’s slide, this was not borderline dirty. This was simply unacceptable.
I am a steadfast proponent of old school, hard nosed baseball. This is why I was fine with Machado’s slide, especially given that his intention was solely to break up a potential double play. Though he should not have raised his foot, even Pedroia could see that Machado did not intend to do any real damage. In fact, Machado attempted to hold Pedroia up at the back end of the play.
But there is no room for the type of pitch that Barnes made in retaliation. Barnes and the Red Sox were well within their rights to respond to Machado’s slide, and I would even go as far as to encourage a response because it was Boston’s team leader who got hurt in the process. Yet there is a protocol, and Barnes clearly failed to abide by ethical procedure.
Machado should have been hit in the first game following the play that injured Pedroia. In fact, Machado was probably prepared to get hit by a pitch in that at bat. This would be a timely and appropriate response to a borderline play, as long as the Boston pitcher hit Machado in the right place, which would be somewhere in the back or the butt.
Getting hit by a pitch in one of these areas does no real harm to a player’s health but still sends an important message in defense of Pedroia. Anything chest and below is fair game, but there is no room for head hunting in baseball today. That is just dirty. That is how you jeopardize careers.
And somehow, that is not even the most frustrating development that came from the Barnes pitch. Following the dust up, Pedroia made no effort to come to the defense of his teammate.
So Where Did the Retaliation Come From?
Said Pedroia after the game, “I had nothing to do with that. That’s not how you do that, man. I’m sorry to him and his team. If you’re going to protect guys, you do it right away. He knows that and both teams know that. Definitely a mishandled situation.”
Pedroia’s blatant throwing under a bus of his teammate was jarring to Orioles pitcher Zach Britton.
“Dustin, him telling Manny, ‘Hey, that didn’t come from me’ may be even more frustrating,” Britton said to BaltimoreBaseball.com after the game. “Because he’s the leader of that clubhouse and if he can’t control his own teammates, then there’s a bigger issue over there.”
It’s unclear whether or not the instruction to hit Machado, both when and where, came from Boston management. Barnes was suspended 4 games as a result of the incident.